The status of sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii) and its food resources in a section of Mayanja Wetland, Nakaseke District, Uganda
Murwanyi, Happy Peter
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The survival of the Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii) in Uganda is greatly threatened by the ever-increasing loss of wetlands from many of the areas where the species is known to occur. In Mayanja, a section of river Kafu wetland system, degradation and hunting have cut off many dispersal corridors to the extent of creating isolated individuals. I conducted a study to examine the distribution and relative abundance of the Sitatunga, investigate major threats to the species and document what plant species they used for food in Mayanja wetland. For this study, Mayanja wetland was divided into three blocks. Block A was the marshes mainly covered by Cyperus papyrus, Echinochloa pyramidalis and Typha capensis. Block B was the vegetation transition between the marshes and savanna while Block C were the formerly cultivated areas. Existing towers (used for tourism) were used to observe, record behavior and enumerate individuals. Transect walks through the wetland were used to gather data on food resources and indices (dung, foot prints and tracks) of Sitatunga presence. Besides fixed transects, a random search was also adopted to record the occurrence of the species in a section of Mayanja wetland. Questionnaires generated views from the local communities about the performance of current conservation approaches. A total of 52 individual Sitatungas were sighted with the majority in Block B and the least in Block C. Grazing signs, tracks were mostly encountered in Block A while dung was mostly in Block B. The Sitatunga were mostly active early in the morning from 6:00am to 8am and again between 5pm to 7pm although some sightings were recorded even outside these peak times. A total of 39 species of plants were recorded as consumed by the Sitatunga of which 58% were in marshes and only 5.9% in cultivated areas while 36.1% transition between marshes and savannah. To the respondents, the Sitatunga is a well-known species with an increasing population. The species usually appears in cultivated areas in the wet season and retreats to the marshes with onset of the dry season. Lack of known predator, the character of local people (Bararo) not eating bush meat, low levels of poaching and availability of palatable vegetation were identified as the key factors for its continued survival. Habitat degradation due to grazers, charcoal burning and cultivation were identified as the major threats to its survival. Increase in wetland acreage, motivation of people through sport hunting benefits, establishment of village anti-poaching teams, deployment of monitoring staff from UWA and implementation of anti-poaching laws and acts were identified as most viable recommendations in Sitatunga conservation efforts.